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25 Jan 2023
by Debi O'Donovan

REBA Inside Track: Can employee wellbeing be inclusive when we don’t talk about periods?

Are you an employer which is willing to look beyond the taboo and to discuss menstruation in the workplace?

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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting a most incredible woman: Professor Dame Lesley Regan.

Packed with energy and passionate about her newish role as England’s first ever Women’s Health Ambassador, she is both hugely knowledgeable and approachable.

When it comes to women’s health, we in the world of workplace wellbeing often talk about all things maternity and parental, as well as menopause, but it is rare that we publicly speak about the menstrual cycle.

Yet Lesley Regan addresses this straight on in a most sensible manner. This is important because when girls or women struggle with period pain (and most do to some level) or period complications, such as endometriosis (relatively few do, and it is debilitating), then days are lost each month throughout schooling (affecting education) and then at work – which can affect career opportunities or even the ability to hold down a job.

I believe menstruation is a hugely overlooked area when we discuss inclusive health in the workplace. Too many girls and women have been taught from early on ‘that is how it is, so learn to live with it’. Within the workplace women talk among themselves, rarely with male colleagues, to help each other out or cover for each other when someone is struggling, but it is never raised beyond that.

Extra heavy bleeding due to peri-menopause causing fright ahead of shift work where there is no easy access to a bathroom, or a key presentation at a meeting? Easier to call in sick, than risk dying of shame should leakage occur at the wrong moment. 

I once worked with an endometriosis sufferer who only took freelance telephone shift roles so she could literally work around her cycle. The few permanent roles she had had were lost due to excessive absences. Her work was excellent, she was a great freelance colleague, but her ‘reliability’ was called into question. All because she could not get the treatment she needed. 

Lesley Regan, as a gynaecologist, points out that most period complications are relatively easy to sort out with the right medical intervention. It is also never too late to seek help. However, this is easier said than done, when not all GPs have the expertise needed.

Are you an employer which is willing to look beyond the taboo and to raise awareness, or include access to medical intervention to reduce this challenge too many female employees struggle with?

Are you able to push your health insurer, employee medical provider or wellbeing supplier to ensure this often one-off intervention is covered?

One place to start could be to feedback to the British Standards Institution which is currently developing guidance on menstrual and menopausal health in the workplace, to help other employers recognise the importance of supporting this area of employee health.

Let’s make sure employee wellbeing is truly inclusive, and not exclusive, of all women’s needs.